Racing towards the Regatta

After a few days watching the world go by at Lower Shiplake, we were ready to cruise the 2 miles downstream to what is probably one of the most prestigious places to be seen on the Thames, Henley. First we had to cruise past a house featured on Grand Designs,

Definitely a des res

Then after we had passed through Marsh lock, we passed the Henley Rowing club, just one of many multi story carparks for rowing boats, no wonder the river is so busy, and this is just a tiny fraction of what we saw. We’re convinced they deliberately all go out for spin at exactly the same time of the day just to confuse the nervous narrowboats

Henley rowing club

We cruised around the Rod Eyot, (an Eyot being a small river island, commonly seen on (in?) the Thames.) Rod Eyot is populated with about 10 chalets, fancy living somewhere surrounded by water.

Rod Eyot and friends

And for £10 a night (£55 a week) we finally moored up on Marsh Meadows. One of the necessary flood planes, a few minutes walk into the town.

Marsh meadow mooring

Of course what Henley is world famous for now is the annual 5 day Henley Royal Regatta, HRR, which takes place at the end of June/beginning of July, but the race course is set up and used for several other regattas during June and July. We were able to stand on the bridge and see the end of the course and the start of the hospitality.

The fun starts here

Not only is the rowing highly competitive, but I think the social scene is too. And looking back upstream we could see boats and people as far as the eye could see. (We were moored beyond the treeline)

We thought it was time to do some entertaining of our own and Eric’s brother and his wife came to see us. We had a lovely lunch on board, sipping something chilled, as one does in this part of the world,

before we went for a stroll around the town.

The market place

And to see the bridge

Henley bridge

The river and rowing museum was closed the 2 days we stayed in Henley, but one of the riverside info boards showed this painting, an 17thC version of street view looking towards Henley Bridge, when the river was just as much a focal point for the towns economy, albeit in a much more laborious way. It shows the “Flash Lock” designed stem the flow of water downstream whilst the cargo barges queued up behind it, the resulting whoosh of water as it was opened sent the barges hurtling downstream ‘riding the wave’. It sounds quite fun, but it was physically a very hard and dangerous job, and many lost their lives working on the river.
Jan Siberechts (1627–c.1703), 1698

Henley on Thames from Wargrave Road

Nowadays the river is just as essential to the towns economy, just in a more gentle fashion

Ships at Shiplake

Ok, the knowledgeable will know they’re boats not ships, but oh boy, or oh buoy, we have certainly seen a wide variety of craft floating past Firecrest whilst moored at Lower Shiplake.
The most impressive was The New Orleans, a replica paddle steamer, flagship of the Hobbs of Henley fleet.

Now thats the way to go for a paddle

But perhaps one of the most prestigious was the Alaska, another steamer, but this time genuinely part of the national historic fleet, built in 1883, and has been used for the Queen’s Royal Barge.

The steam boat Alaska

Of course not all the boats are quite so elegant but on a sunny sunday afternoon the occupants are still having just as much fun

Some are having to work harder than others

I havent quite worked out the pleasure of travelling backwards yet

Some boats seem very high tech, these rowers were too serious to stop for a chat, we wondered if they are training for some sort of ocean rowing challenge as it had a stabilizer, its the only boat of this style that we’ve seen.

This is some high tec kit

This one seems like its cheating, but I suppose if you can have an E-bike, why not an an E-canoe, it certainly looked a lovely boat.

Youve gotta love an electric boat

Of course we’ve lost count of the cruisers whizzing up and down,

Noisy and fast. Not for me.

but its the Dutch barge style boats that prompt the “… our next boat ….” conversations

I think the biggest argument would be the colour, I love it….

That’s when were not suffering from house envy

Our mooring with a view

Of course for some life on the water is a breeze

But I’m afraid we had a bit of a chuckle here, its not much of a breeze when your boat breaks down and you have to be towed home

The boat that one aspires to is a beautiful Gentleman’s launch.

but for those that don’t have a property with a boat house in which to keep such luxury we saw this concept boat whose owner and inventor stopped to chat

Stopping for a chat

We were seeing it on its launch day, so much so that it doesn’t even have an advertising website yet. But the name on the side is Pubboat. Its a collapsible inflatable design using the modern paddleboard materials that hold the sides rigid like this unlike traditional inflatable dinghies. It folds up small enough to put into the boot of his VW golf. And I think he said it would retail for around £1500. I’m sure this is one for the Dragons Den

Good luck guys

And I haven’t even begun to mention the rowers, paddleboarders, kayaks, swimmers or dogs that we saw in the water. It certainly makes a change from the canals

Mysteries, murders and movies

After a week at Beale Park watching the jubilee celebrations, we took the opportunity for a night on Pangbourne Meadow (so I could restock the fridge without having to carry the shopping down the towpath). I would have called a water taxi but the standard of boat building in these parts leaves a lot to be desired.

Lessons on how not to build a raft

Despite the dodgy rafts, the prestigious Pangbourne college, has historic naval links, but in 1939 it was the Royal engineers took advantage of the meadow and used the area to train in bridge building. However the Whitchurch bridge is still standing (Whitchurch being on the Oxfordshire side, Pangbourne is in Berkshire) has stood on the site since 1792. When it was first built the ferryman received £350 in compensation for loss of trade. Its one of only 2 remaining private toll bridges over the Thames. (Swinford being the other)

Whithurch Bridge

But with the sun shining we set off -our destination, Shiplake lock charging point.

Sometimes its well worth waking up at 6am

Our first chuckle of the day came when we saw two heads popping up out of the water, we realised they were divers, I duly called out what are you looking for?…. “Bodies” came the reply. It turns out they were filming for Midsomer Murders. I suspect Firecrest’s photobombing shot will end up on the cutting room floor.

Hope they didnt find any bodies

Filming was obviously the order of the day, because we saw these two capturing the moment

They were probably estate agents

and this swimmer who was either being chased by a submarine, or was well prepared to sue any boat that cut the corner too close for comfort.

Swim cam

Or perhaps just keeping a look out for anyone going the wrong way.

Sentry duty

but the two things that puzzled us the most, was seeing a letter box built into the railway embankment wall below Mapledurham. Who was going to use it to post letters and who was going to collect them.

Thats an odd place for a letter box

Then we saw another built into the Sonning bridge arch which caused me to ask Mr Google for some answers. The Sonning post box was is an art installation, just the front of a box, put up by the artist, Impro, in 2013, the Mapledurham post box appeared in 2016 but is probably a copycat prank with no one claiming responsibility.

Sonning Bridge

but as I’m posting about bridges, we couldnt pass through this area without mentioning Christchurch footbridge in Reading.

Christchurch bridge

Completed in 2015 linking Reading and Caversham, and if like us you like a few facts and figures,
it is 123 metres long, the mast is 39m tall. Is made up from more than 455 tonnes of steel,
A 68 m river span weighing approximately 200 tonnes and supported by 14 pairs of cables,
1,100 metres of reinforced cable attached to the main bridge mast, supporting eight separate steel sections
A 50 tonne mast sitting 39m above river level, supported on nine piles 750mm in diameter and 19 metres in length.
On a hot day, a mast that expands 3cm as it warms up.
A bridge deck which expands up approximately 6cm at the middle of its river span on a hot day.
A bridge deck is only 380mm deep – about the size of a car steering wheel
234 LED lights – 39 of which are colour changing – alongside its white LED walkway illuminating lighting.

I wonder if it will last as long and look as good as the brick bridges in a few hundred years.
We had been warned that there was absolutely no mooring to be had in Reading, however we spotted this gap, which leads directly to the entrance of tesco. I took advantage and restocked the ballast, eg, if theres a shortage of tinned tomatoes or other heavy bulky goods, we’ll be ok

Reading continual moorers

Weve got used to seeing some pretty prestigeous boats but obviously not all boats in Reading wanted to be seen

Spot the boat

We made it to Shiplake Lock to recharge our batteries. And our final mystery of the day….

Mind the Gap

Talk about spring showers, we’ve had some really dodgy weather recently. So we have only been travelling in short hops, taking in pretty moorings when we see them.

Somewhere between n
North and South Stoke

It’s the not all overgrown wild mooring, some people have some rather nice spots with manicured homes and gardens below Wallingford.

This one surpasses all my previous awards for most sumptuous boat house

Having heard that the footpath at Goring was being resurfaced meant the visitor moorings were closed, we set out for Pangbourne. But just as we landed on the lock, the biggest raindrops ever started to land on us. I had the foresight to ask the lockie if there was anywhere close to shelter, there was, we got tucked in around the corner by the weir.

Look at that raging torrent

not that we could see the weir initially, but it didn’t take too long for the clouds to run dry and we could see the weir and a little hydro electric generator

Looking down on from the bridge

and for the Egyptian geese to come and say hello

Not the prettiest goose but a nice change from the canada geese

Goring-on-Thames is another chocolate box village, pop phenomenon George Michael sadly died here at his home, Mill Cottage. Its also where Oscar Wilde lived when he wrote his play “An Ideal Husband” however I dont think his character Lord Goring was ideal. But we shall choose to remember that Goring Village Butchers sells the best Cumberland sausages we’ve had in a long time.

That’s Mill cottage and St Thomas of Canterbury church

I took an opportunity to walk across the bridge,

A bit of oak mellowed to blend with the concrete structure

into Streatley on the southbank. I was about to start walking up the onto the North Wessex downs ( why are hills called downs not ups?), but the storm clouds put in an appearance so I only made it into the meadow.

Streatley meadow

Goring and Streatley are also known as the Goring Gap, where the Chilterns on the north of the river come close the the North Wessex Downs on the south of the river. (Although at this point as the river is running north to south, the hills are on the east and the west)

Whilst we were moored at Goring lock, I realised the cover picture on our paper Heron map is Goring Lock.

That looks familiar

The weather dictated we stayed 2 nights in Goring

These locks make us feel quite small

before we continued our journey towards Pangbourne.

Looking towards the Chilterns

Whilst we were

From Morse to Murders and a night in Wallingford

We waved goodbye to Abingdon to meander downstream through the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside.

Heading towards Days lock with the Wittenham Clumps iron age fort on the hill

Past some very desirable boat houses

And the house that came with it wasn’t too shabby either

And the best decorated pill box that we had ever seen

We didnt even realise it was a pill box at first

We’d heard from friends that Wallingford was a lovely place to visit, although as it features prominently in Midsomer Murders we weren’t entirely sure how safe we would be. But sure enough although we didn’t stumble over any famous dead bodies we did see a film crew.

Could this be the site of the next Midsomer Murder…..

There’s plenty of mooring on both sides of the river looking towards the medieval stone bridge

Looking towards Wallingford Bridge

although the banks are quite high, so a bit of an undignified climb out of the boat for me. But the nice edge made it very easy for us to attach the jubilee bunting that I had made, and cause we were able to simply turn the boat around to do the other side.

The best dressed boat, ready to celebrate the jubilee

But lovely as Wallingford was to wander around,

That unusal spire belongs to St Peter’s church, not the Town Arms pub

the powers that be have decided that they will charge £12 per night to moor. The lady comes around between 8 and 9 each morning, so of course the boats that know had all disappeared by then, we however paid our fee and left later. Its an odd concept, the council surely can’t make much money, but it meant that we only stayed one night.

Looking from the bridge

Still, its a fascinating little town, old and quirky and we will look forward to a return visit.

A few days in Abingdon

Or to be correct, I should say Abingdon-On-Thames, historically the county town of Berkshire but now part of the ceremonial county of Oxfordshire, and home to the MG sports car from 1929 to 1932.

One of the original MGs

The town council in Abingdon has, in our opinion, made the very sensible decision to welcome boaters to their town. It permits 3 days mooring without charge, There’s lots of it, and it’s all within an easy and pleasant stroll into town.

The walk into town, looking towards Abingdon Bridge

So of course we stopped, strolled, shopped, ate out, visited places and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and because we explored, we proportionally spent far more than if we had only stayed the one night. So thankyou Abingdon, we felt welcome, and will come back. The river below the lock is wide, with a firm bank. the meadow has between path and river has been mown to make mooring easy, trouble is it also appeals to the geese.

Abingdon is a old town, there’s a Jurassic Ichthyosar skelington in the museum, but it was also full of school children so we couldn’t see clearly, and Eric was more impressed that it was home to the Old Speckled Hen, (the beer is actually named after the MG) and although neither is made in Abingdon anymore, the Morland Brewery played a prominent role in the towns history. The museum is housed in the old county hall which is famous for the Abingdon bun throwing event which sees the local dignitaries stand on the roof and throw celebratory buns down to the crowds gathered in the square below. It only happens on high days and holidays such as royal jubilees. So a pity we wont be around on June 5th this year.

The town is fully dressed for the up coming jubilee, including the royal mail box

And the streets are hung with bunting

Looking up Ock street towards St Helens

And although of a different age and intention to the beauty of Oxford, walking around Abingdon, was just as lovely an experience. We followed Ock Street up to the St Helens church which, because of increasing need, it simply added an extra aisle making it unusually wider than it is long.

Just one of the doors

We did get to go inside St Helens church, but the actual abbey at Abingdon which dates back to Saxon times and had a turbulent history, was dismembered by Henry VIII. Various buildings were repurposed throughout the town but the ruins in the Abbey gardens are actually a Victorian folly

Trendell’s Folly in the Abbey Gardens

And some times geese are cute.

On towards Abingdon

Its only about 10 miles from Oxford to Abingdon, but we took a few days to enjoy the scenery and to wind down from the grandeur we’d been in awe of over the past week. However we still found ourselves suffering from some serious house envy,

Its even got mooring, although we hate to think of the flood risk

And boat envy

A Thames Galleon

We moored up at Sandford lock to use the electric charging point.

Plugging in for some serious juice

We’d done over three weeks since our last charge at St John’s and from Eric’s calculations we might have made four if the dramatic grey clouds hadn’t been quite so dramatic.

We’ve seen some gorgeous clouds this month

But the sun shone at Sandford and fully charged we continued downstream, and having enjoyed some peace and quiet we decided to moor up within sight and sound of Culham park motocross track the day the quad bikes had come out to play. For someone who gets excited watching the BMX races at the olympics this is just as ludicrous and 100 times noisier and dustier. And I sat engrossed watching these noisey beasts flying through the air trying to out do each other.

Culham motocross track

But it was the swans that really won me over

Bringing the family to say hello

The following day we meekly approached Abingdon. Only to find ourselves in a lock with a sense of humour. Needless to say we kept our bacon butties well out of sight incase they were confiscated

Not sure if CRT could get away with this.

Time to move on from Oxford

We had found ourselves moored below Medley bridge for almost a week, thoroughly enjoying being tucked away peacefully, yet close enough to enjoy the best of Oxford’s lively atmosphere. We had even been lucky enough to realise that a pair of kingfishers had a nest right opposite us.

A kingfisher treat

We suspect the young had hatched, but they stay in the nest for 3 to 4 weeks, it would have been pushing our luck to stay on the off chance of seeing the brood emerge. We were also running low on water so needed to move on. It was only as we were pulling away that we saw the nice post we had tied to actually had a notice on it…. 2 days only

A very well camouflaged sign

Ah well, we will show them the photo to prove our ignorance if anyone pursues us for a mooring fee. We actually feel quite strongly about respecting mooring restrictions, otherwise it would be hypocritical for us to complain about the continual moorers who belligerently believe it’s their right to moor wherever they want for as long as they want. Being continual cruisers we haven’t set out to do any of the recognised cruising rings promoted by the hire companies, however we set off to do the Oxford ring.

Screen shot from AC canal planner

We left the river at Sheepwash channel,

Sheepwash channel

Where the Rewley Road swing bridge is being restored as a scheduled ancient monument. I’m very glad it will remain open, as it takes 2 men to operate it, allowing passage into Oxford,

Rewley road swing bridge

Through Isis lock

Isis Lock

which is effectively the end of navigation on the canal for most boats as the short branch that continues only has a 35 foot winding hole.

Looking down past the residential moorings towards the terminus of the Oxford canal

So we cruised north up the Oxford canal

Past some houses with lovely gardens

And returned to the river via Dukes Cut

Entering Dukes Cut

before continuing our journey downstream past Medley bridge and onward.

Its approximately 8 miles and a 4 hour journey, but the environment agency that looks after the river has some frustrating rules about the water points, only using a rigid 7m hose with no fittings, in theory to prevent contamination and back flow, however as we have a 20m flexible hose with brass fittings we are going to have to make some compromises. And so this time we opted to return to the canal to fill our tank. But it wasn’t just a maintenance cruise, we did also see some lovely canal, and some very nice homes.

We made the mistake of cruising past all the rowing clubs on Saturday morning.

It was very busy, although if the bridge grafiti is to be believed not everyone is taking the strain.

“Perfectly Legal” -someones got a sense of humour,

We’ve enjoyed Oxford far more than we expected. Its been fun to explore and theres still plenty left for the next time.

Oxford part 3, expanding ourselves, museums and markets

As usual when faced with an overflowing abundance of choice, I never know where to start. Oxford is an affluent city centre that attracts the curious, both academic and tourist, and a curious mix of both. Oxford is where Charles Dodgson, aka CS Lewis studied and taught so a lot of the curious tales of Alice in Wonderland were set in and around Oxford and particularly Christ Church college.

Christ Church

So we resorted to simply exploring on foot, searching out independent retailers, and avoiding anything that herded us like sheep. Whilst we were wandering around we discovered the Covered market which first opened in 1774, now it is home to some fabulous little independant retailers and celebrates Alice’s adventures with a collection of paper lantern sculptures hung from the rafters

We also had a very tasty, and affordable Thai meal from Sasi’s and the best icecream from the Wicked Chocolate store.

The wicked chocolate shop and gelateria

Not everything in the market was edible, or should I say desirable because the notice claims it is edible, Fellers butcher’s proudly displays the worlds oldest Ham

The world’s oldest ham

Following on from our market musings, it was time to take in some museums, and again so many to choose from that we had to prioritise. We chose the History of Science museum which celebrated over 1000 years of beautiful and intricate instruments, some collected by the eminent scholars of Oxford and some celebrating the work of more recent times, in particular the Oxford Astazenica covid vacine

And having done the science, I chose the botanical gardens, the rose garden planted in honour of the researchers who discovered the clinical importance of penicillin

And the alliums because we cant all go to Chelsea

We barely scratched the surface of all the things we could do and see in Oxford, but we have to save some for next time

Oxford, part 1 – all work and no play

Of course I’d like to say I studied here, well no not really, it wouldn’t have been the best or right place for either of us, but oh boy what a lovely place to immerse yourself in academia if you’re so inclined.

One very proud young man

And the day we explored was graduation day so plenty of smiling happy family’s milling around the closed gates Sheldonian.

And without any logical plan of our own we just walked around town enjoying the atmosphere

And soaking up some of the history of the place

The faculty of history building

There was too much reading up to do

The Bodleian library

and taking good photos was proving difficult

The Radcliffe camera

But Christchurch has to be the most magnificent

Christchurch from the meadows

Or perhaps not wanting to be left behind Magdalen College

Magdalen College

Which sits on the banks of the Cherwell and where we could watch the haphazard tourists trying to outdo the students punting. The queue was long so we didn’t have a go

Punting on the cherwell

And we ended our day back at Christchurch for choral evensong

Inside the quad a christchurch
Awaiting evensong